Tag Archives: simple living

168 Hours…Family

This series is intended for those of us not in the top 1%, or even the top 10%, in terms of household earnings.  We’re not at the bottom either but we don’t have the money or flexibility of CEOs and executives. 

I wrote about work and now I’m writing about the other side of the equation: Family, especially those raising young children.  Older children are another story and one that I have zero knowledge of!  I felt that by focusing on two major areas that take time — work and family — I could help more people find time in their busy lives. 

The most important advice I can offer besides the obvious “choose your partner wisely” is to divide your chores equally. If you work full-time and also take on the majority of chores and childcare, the work/life balance will become nearly impossible.  If you work part-time or are the stay-at-home parent, you still need to get your partner to be responsible for some chores and I recommend NOT splitting these along traditional gender lines.   Many couples do an indoor (female) and outdoor (male) work split.  While grass cutting can wait, indoor chores tend to be more repetitive, urgent and time-consuming overall.   See this post about cooking for what I mean.

Compared to friends/family who divide chores by gender, I have a lot more free time.  I don’t have to do extra laundry to make sure my husband has clean underwear.  We can both make a good, healthy dinner.   I put dishes away more often but my husband is very capable and willing to do this too. I guess the main reason I advocate dividing chores in gender-neutral ways is that it gives you more flexibility.

It almost goes without saying that young kids and teenagers can pitch in, too.  Tell them that they don’t live in a hotel and their parents are not their servants!

Also, check out author Laura Vanderkam’s blog…her book “168 Hours” inspired this series.

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168 Hours…Working It

As I stated in my original post “168 Hours For The Rest of Us“, this series is intended for those of us not in management, or not very high up in the corporate chain.  We still have work/life demands but don’t have the money or flexibility of CEOs and executives. 

Rather a list of tips about work/life balance, I want to focus on certain crucial aspects of time management — in this case, work.  For most of us, work consumes a large part of our week.  At minimum per week, it’s 45 hours per week (including lunch hour), plus commuting time.

The assumption is that the “rest of us” do not work for companies that offer the average employee any flex-time, work-at-home arrangements or job-sharing, at least not on an official basis.  When you work in a more traditional company with typical work hours, it’s much harder to enjoy a healthy work/life balance and to find time for your non-work needs.

The most important advice I can offer is to make yourself valuable to your immediate supervisor (and company).  You do not have to be a superstar employee, which often entails overtime, but you do have to be reliable and generally make your boss’s life easier.  You have to meet all reasonable deadlines and not drop the ball.  You can’t call in sick too often, unless you’re really sick of course.  Basically, you must figure out what makes your boss happy.  This varies a lot depending on your boss’s managerial style, as well as the company culture.  I’m not saying this is easy but if you figure this out, you and your boss will be much happier.  If you have a hard time figuring this out, look at your colleagues.  Even if your boss doesn’t play favorites, there’s always at least one person who seems to enjoy a little autonomy.   Watch and learn from this person.  Here are some additional tips or what works for me.  

The smarter ones also take care to cultivate a good work reputation by taking on projects that have visibility or prestige outside their departments.  That way, they still may have job security in the event their boss falls out of favor or leaves the company. Note: I’m often not one of the smart ones, but I have seen this work time and time again.

I understand that there are many who are unhappy at their job and it’s all too easy to feel trapped.  I was in that kind of situation for about two years.  A new boss entered the picture and we did not hit it off to say the least.  While I enjoyed a degree of flexibility given my track record at the company, it became harder to leave work early when necessary or to call in sick without suspicion.   The best thing I ever did was to find a better job with a boss that better appreciated my skills and temperment.  Having said this, it is often necessary to continually manage your job reputation and that is tiring for many, including myself.

Another important variable are your colleagues.  I’ve been fortunate to be situations where all of us pull our weight and watch each other’s back.  We are all punctual and conscientious about taking time for doctor appointments etc.. When you are in a good team environment, the boss is even more likely to relax and trust everyone.   If there’s one “bad apple” on the team, say someone who’s chronically late, the boss may take away privileges or become more of a micro-manager. 

You must manage your relationships with colleagues as well as with your boss.  You don’t have to become best friends but you should try to set a good example for other co-workers, especially new ones.  Do your best to help new colleagues fit in so that they can work smarter.  Help them find the right resources.  Set an example in everything you do from how you run meetings to taking your lunch to minimizing office distractions.  

Recently,  a new person joined our department and her work ethic threatened to make the rest of us look like slackers, even though we’re not.  She saw nothing wrong with working late or skipping lunch and even “bragged” about working 10+ hours at her last job.  I understood that she had a lot to prove but I also knew that I should help her work smarter and fit into our more relaxed company culture.   When I saw her eating at her desk again, I mentioned a magazine article that touted the benefits of a work break — to clear your head, reduce mistakes and recharge yourself, etc..  After that, on occasion, I would express concern that she had skipped lunch.  Eventually she started taking lunch breaks (on most days) and leaving on time.  While much of her changed attitude had to do with finding her groove at her new job, I’m 100% sure that if the rest of us routinely skipped lunch and worked late, she would have mimicked that, too, in order to look “good” to the boss.

If you are able to create a good work environment via your relationship with your boss and co-workers, you can earn some degree of flexibility even without having the perks of management.

In every situation where I have earned my boss’s trust, I also enjoyed greater autonomy in terms of setting my work schedule.  I can’t choose to come in at 10 a.m. but I changed my morning arrival time to avoid traffic.  Right now this works well for me because I get home for dinner every night.   If I needed to adjust my schedule, my boss is likely to allow it.  My lunch hour is similarly flexible.  I have my regular lunch hour but I can take it later or earlier if needed.  Because I always make sure I do my job well, I can also occasionally take a longer lunch without consequences.  This has allowed me to do my household / grocery shopping, get my hair cut, get oil changes, and take care of a host of errands during the weekday instead of letting these clog up my valuable weekend hours. 

Your company’s internet policy may vary and I don’t recommend surfing the web over work.  However, I admit to taking internet mini-breaks.*  This lets me refresh my mind a bit and also take care of chores, including paying bills,  refilling prescriptions, doing research on everything from cars to cable/TV packages, and shopping for self or others.   I can do this because my boss doesn’t feel the need to watch over my shoulder.  Note: Even if your company has strict online policies, you can do a lot on your own smartphone, tablet or laptop. 

Some people may do everything right and just not have the kind of boss who trusts his/her employees.  A friend of mine works for a micro-manager and despite her best efforts, neither she nor any other employee has yet to win the boss’s trust.  However, even in that situation, my friend is probably still considered one of the more trusted employees and has a small degree of flexibility over the others.

To sum it up, your work situation is one of the most important factor in terms of work/life balance.  If you can “steal time” during your work hours, you can gain back time for more enjoyable weekends.  The other side of the coin is family, to be addressed next!

* I am sure someone will comment that it is abuse to use company computer for personal stuff. I’m just not sure how I could manage my life if I did zero personal stuff online during work hours.

Also, check out author Laura Vanderkam’s blog…her book “168 Hours” inspired this series.

My Perfect Weekend

A Chapter of Laura Vanderkam’s book “All The Money In The World” focuses on a reader’s perfect weekend.  For most people, the perfect weekend involves spending money, even if it doesn’t have to be high amounts.  Even if you focus on quality time with friends and family, there is usually some spending on food, entertainment or other expenditures.

This got me thinking about my perfect weekend.  While the book and most people would lay it out by time, I thought I would just list ideas and categorized by costs:

No-Cost

  • Sleep, Sleeping In, Napping.
  • Sex.
  • Play with kids. 
  • Go to the park with family. 
  • Go to a friend’s house and watch DVDs.
  • Read a library book or a favorite old book. 
  • Stay up late.
  • Take a long, leisurely walk in a park, preferably by a pond

Low-Cost

  • Exercising (can be a DVD or using the gym membership, which is a cost). 
  • Watch a marathon of a favorite show (netflix or already owned)
  • A nice meal at home (cooked by my husband)
  • Starbucks cappuccino or latte
  • Calling in sick (I’m counting this as a “cost” since this would deduct from my sick days.  For some reason, things that are a bit off the straight and narrow really appeal to me!)
  • Massage ( from husband)
  • Taco or Tamales night

High-Cost

  • Hire a personal assistant to tackle all the things I hate doing, like help clean out the garage, mopping, getting oil change, handwashing clothes, washing dogs, washing dog mats at the laundromat, etc..the list goes on! (Or I could just switch places with some A-List celebrity for a day?)
  • Massage and Facial (can be fairly inexpensive if you get a good deal on Groupon or LivingSocial; also see low-cost option above!)
  • Expensive dinner out – sushi?
  • Baby sitter for one night (can also barter this if you have a trustworthy friend/neighbor/family member)
  • Hotel stay near the beach
  • Drinks at a bar (something we rarely/never get to do!)

How would you plan out your perfect weekend? It starts Friday evening!

My Idea Of Simple Living Doesn’t Exist

For some, simple living means leaving urban areas for rural farmland, preferably with a vineyard, animals, and fields of lavendar.   For some, it’s about staying home with the kids.  While I understand the appeal of these common dreams,  I’ve realized lately that all those fantasies have their complications.

A rural life can be back-breaking and tough financially. You trade suit and tie for mud-covered overalls.  You don’t clock in at 9 am to 5 pm  but you probably work dusk to dawn if you need money to survive.  Of course you can run a bed and breakfast in Tuscany or Provence or other more “rural” paradise, but you need a lot of money to buy into that dream (and it requires work also).  Less commuting and less office politics would be a welcomed bonus however! 

Staying home with kids holds obvious appeal for many exhausted working parents.  But it’s important for me to remember that I wouldn’t be spending hours and hours reading to them, walking in the park or just playing with them.  I would have to do a lot more laundry and house cleaning, too!  It’s not that I’m spared those chores now but I definitely can offload many chores and errands due to my work schedule.

So other than rural escape or quitting my job, what is my ideal simple life?  The answer: A life free from mounds of paperwork, bureaucracy and bills.  If only I could live life without having to call so-and-so about an incorrect charge on my bill, write letters to insurance companies, call my cable or phone company to renegotiate my rates, or fill out forms ever again.

This is probably at the top of my mind because I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with both the government and private insurance for a myriad of reasons.  I know the words government and bureaucracy go together while corporations are seen as more efficient.  That may be true if you compare the government with Walmart or Coca-Cola, but if you compare the Big Government with Blue Shield, Cigna or any private health insurer, you’ll soon get a huge headache with rude or inept customer service reps, overwhelming bills, billing errors and paperwork, too. 

I supposed I could simplify this area of adult life if my husband took care of everything but I don’t think it’s a good idea to step back that much or be that clueless about finances and other bills/paperwork that affect us both.   Maybe that’s why we cherish our childhoods so much. That’s when our parents scheduled doctor appointments and dealt with all our bills! 

Other than running off to a tropical paradise and living off the land, is there really a way to escape from paperwork?

Time Envy

For someone who has only occasional envy issues with the mythical wealthy Jones family (i.e. keeping up with the Joneses), I do get jealous of family and friends more often than I like to admit.  I wish I could offer a solution (i.e. how to overcome envy in 10 easy steps) but I’m not quite there yet and not in any position to dispense advice.  I do know that long-term envy is not healthy for me or anyone, period.  No wonder it’s one of the seven deadly sins!  

My envy is very specific.  It’s rarely about money. Although I do want more money sometimes, I realize that most people that earn more also work at more stressful jobs than I do.  It’s hard to manage employees and answer to demanding higher-ups.  The trade-off is not worth it for me.   For me, envy rears its head when I think about people with more free time.   

Strangely, my envy is usually directed at my stay-at-home mom friends.  I  say “strangely” because I’m not under any illusion that staying at home is easy or relaxing.  No one I know well has a trust fund or are stay-at-home and childless, two groups which probably really deserve anyone’s envy.

So right now, my envy is directed at those who have quit the rat race, especially those with school age children.  While I know it’s still work and there’s a house to keep clean on top of everything else, these friends seem to have more time to work out, read books or just visit the zoo on an uncrowded day!  And if life is anything like those depicted on mom blogs, home life is 50% crazy (kid eats crayons or throws tantrums) but also 50% slower

I fully understand that a slower pace isn’t all fun and games.   A lot of that time is spent managing a household from laundry to doctor appointments to cooking 2-3 meals a day.  However,  I also get the sense that their time is less hectic overall (again, with the caveat that this is my perception once their kids or at least one kid is in school).  When you stay home, you’re the master of your own time.  You don’t often have deadline-oriented projects.  You’re not bombarded with requests and questions via emails and instant messages.   You have time to just move at your own pace.

It’s important to note that I’m not dismissing homelife as anything less, just because it’s not as busy as work life.  Obviously taking care of children is important. ( I also do not say ‘raising children’ because I believe both working and non-working parents raise their children.)  However, I think that our society has placed such importance on busy-ness that even stay-at-home spouses have to say that they’re as busy as everyone else.  I don’t know many SAHMs who would say that they have more time than those working, so my theory is based on reading blogs and personal observation.  When I’m off on weekdays, I run into calm-looking moms strolling through malls with their kids and friends.  They have downtime to smell the roses, so to speak.   I suppose that’s the benefit of not having to cram errands in between a commute and deadlines?

These feelings of envy are often followed by guilt. I know I shouldn’t feel this way and just be happy for others.  I also know that doing endless loads of laundry and household chores would make me very unhappy!

On a personal note, I’m dealing with my time envy in a few ways.  I think it was a suggestion from Tragic Sandwich but I’m trying to take at least one vacation day per month.  If I remember correctly, she uses it for organizing but I’m not that virtuous.  However, that one extra day allows me to stretch out my time and work at my own slower pace.  I’m able to get things off my to-do list and also find time for exercise and just playtime.

That’s not to say I’m not still enjoying parenthood overall.  I love watching my kids play (they’re quite close in age) and letting them discover their own games like peek-a-boo and “let’s-roll-over-on-each-other-and-laugh” plus the usual bickering and bopping each other on the head. 

Is my impression of staying home completely unrealistic or is there a grain of truth?  Do you envy those with more money or more time? 

November 23: Follow Your Own Advice?

Every Wednesday, I’ll (try) to post up a Simple Living Tip, with an emphasis on tips that can be done while living a more traditional 9-to-5 life. 

It’s obvious that I like to give advice, hence this series of simple living tips.  However, do I ever follow my own advice? Rarely.  I do try to limit technology on weekends… I don’t read blogs at all, don’t browse websites, rarely shop online and only check emails a few times, and I don’t login first thing in the morning…but other than that I often forget my own advice for simple living

That’s why I’ve been pleasantly surprised that one of my advice to limit choice is helping me keep my resolution/goal.  The only reason I even thought of doing this was because I wrote out the post about choice right before writing down my goals which included eating more fish.  So I decided that when I go out to eat, I should order fish by default unless it’s fried or seems too unhealthy.  That’s easy to do at Japanese restaurants but it’s not my habit to order fish when tastier meat dishes are on the menu. 

This is still a new habit and I tend to forget on weekends.  However, now if I go out for lunch during the work week, I immediately scan the menu for fish items, ignoring other choices.  This has made it much easier to order and I’m actually eating fish more often.  Simpler and healthier!

October 19: Learn A Few Recipes Really, Really Well

Every Wednesday, I’ll (try) to post up a Simple Living Tip, with an emphasis on tips that can be done while living a more traditional 9-to-5 life. 

Unlike my husband, I’ll never think of cooking as “relaxing” or really enjoyable. However, after years of marriage, I have become more confident in the kitchen and I can make a variety of tasty dishes with minimal effort, even improvising as necessary.   I think that having several go-to “no-cook” dishes has definitely simplify my life.

Here are my go-to dishes when I’m tired, hungry and don’t want to think too much:

  1. Pasta Salad:  Easy to customize and great for lunch the next day, too.
  2. Pasta with tuna (and sometimes capers, olives and parmigiano): Pasta without any red sauce is a life saver when you’re not very inspired.  This one is quick to make; you simply dump in a can of tuna, preferably tuna in olive oil, and mix well. 
  3. A Big Salad: Italians generally don’t eat a salad as the main dish, but my husband and I do this often in the summers.  Open a bag of pre-mixed greens, mix a vinegrette of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and add in toppings such as bell peppers, avocado (a favorite of mine), carrots, tomatoes, sliced ham, artichoke hearts, cubes of cheese, goat cheese etc..
  4. Rice Salad: An Italian summer favorite. See recipe here.  Can also be lunch the next day.
  5. Frittata: I love the versatility of frittata. It’s easy to make and you can mix and match ingredients like onions, spinach, bell peppers, etc.. I prefer to keep the ingredients simple like onion and bell peppers.  Great for dinner or lunch.
  6. Oven-baked rosemary chicken and potatoes: This one takes a little more effort but you can make a big pan of chicken with potatoes for two dinners.  By effort, I mean that you do have to check the chicken and flip it around from time to time.
  7. Stir Fry: Another mix and match recipe. Saute a 3-4 ingredients in a big wok with soy sauce and oil. I generally pick 2 veggies and 1 meat or tofu. Vegetables I like include: bell peppers, mushrooms, bean sprouts, broccoli and bok choy.  Make rice in a rice cooker in the meantime.  You can also use different sauces and spices for variety.
  8. Fajitas: Saute beef (or chicken) with bell peppers, onions and a fajita mix.  Wrap in a tortilla and add hot sauce.

What are your quick and easy go-to recipes? 

I also have the vague feeling that I wrote something similar to this post before but I did not find it going through my blog archives, or it could have been an unfinished post that never saw light of day….